The Biden administration is expected to reverse an 11th-hour move by the Trump administration to temporarily ease sanctions on Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler after an uproar among lawmakers as well as government officials who were left out of the decision-making process, two people familiar with the matter said.
The U.S. sanctioned Gertler and his companies in 2017 for allegedly corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But in his final days in office, President Donald Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, issued a license which, while not lifting the sanctions against Gertler, exempted his business activities from them until Jan. 31, 2022.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is reviewing the issue, and it’s not clear whether she’s made a final decision, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations.
The Trump administration decision had surprised some State Department officials, and the license came under scrutiny from the new Biden administration almost immediately. Senior officials at the State Department were aware of the license for Gertler before it was issued, according to one person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Democrats in Congress also urged Yellen in letters this week to undo the Trump administration move. “We strongly encourage you to revoke this license as soon as possible,” Representatives Karen Bass and Gregory Meeks of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Yellen in a letter this week.
At the time of Gertler’s sanctioning, Treasury said Gertler worked as a middleman between multinational companies and the Congolese state and on behalf of former President Joseph Kabila. The State Department’s Africa bureau was opposed to the decision to ease the sanctions against him.
A Gertler spokesman said Friday he couldn’t be reached during the Jewish Sabbath. In a statement earlier in the week, a spokesman said Gertler had been issued a license based on his commitment to follow all conditions set by law and Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, “including adopting and implementing the most stringent anti-bribery and anti-corruption measures across all global practices.”
The spokesman said that “moving forward, transparency and accountability will be the foundation of business operations and Mr. Gertler will work hand in hand with law enforcement, civil society and international organizations to guarantee this.”
Gertler, 47, hired high-profile defense attorney Alan Dershowitz and Louis Freeh, a former FBI director, to petition the U.S. government to remove him from the sanctions list. Dershowitz also represented Trump in his first impeachment trial.
A State Department official declined to comment on interagency discussions. The Treasury Department also declined to comment.
(By Nick Wadhams, Saleha Mohsin and Michael J. Kavanagh)